Hitters Who Could Pitch

Over the weekend I discovered Alec Zumwalt’s name. Zumwalt’s career is unspectacular and mostly unworthy of examination. The only interesting thing about his toils came as a last resort to change his outlook. Drafted as an outfielder, the Braves converted Zumwalt to the mound. His ability to throw hard translates to the mound to some extent, as he was able to pitch in the low-90s. His command lacked polish and, and he never reached the majors in any capacity – although the Devil Rays did take him in a Rule 5 draft.

Players already in the Major Leagues are unlikely to transition from the field to the mound (or vice-versa) as most of those transformations seem to occur in the minors. I wanted to throw the topic out as a thought experiment. Which players already established in the majors would make the most sense to move from their fielding positions to the mound? Not necessarily those players who would succeed on the mound, therefore marginalizing previous pitching experience, but the players who just make the most sense to try moving around.

In other words, focus on players who excel at almost nothing besides having a strong and accurate arm. Of course, an arm that doubles as a cannon with a scope is 1) awesome and 2) not a harbinger of pitching success. To set the mood, here are two players that fit the mold (Note: Please don’t take these names as serious suggestions):

Yuniesky Betancourt, SS, Kansas City

The one aspect of Betancourt’s game that evokes positive comments from everyone is his arm. The strength of his arm, however, remains his only real defensive skill anymore. His resistance to drawing walks and inability to hold a high average makes him an offensive liability at the plate. Betancourt is no longer a kid – he turns 29 in January – but his skill set makes him someone who could stand to benefit from trying to pick up the mound phase of the game. Whether his body would allow him to or not is up for debate.

Ronny Cedeno, SS, Pittsburgh

Like Betancourt, Cedeno’s defensive props only go so far. He’ll be 28 at the start of camp, and his offensive talent is woeful. Over the four big league seasons he has with 200 or more plate appearances, Cedeno’s on-base percentage has topped .300 once (and that came during his first full season in the bigs). His arm is still worthwhile though.




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94 Responses to “Hitters Who Could Pitch”

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  1. Marc says:

    Jeff Francouer.

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  2. wat says:

    I know that this has been expressed many times already, but you guys really need a copy-editor (or at least someone who can teach RJ Anderson how to write a sentence).

    -32 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • James III says:

      I give a thumbs-down to the rudeness but an unfortunate thumbs-up to the sentiment. Cool material, nice analysis, good vocabulary, but odd usage knocks it down a piece. I heard you guys are hiring: someone with top flight grammar and diction skills would be a serious asset.

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    • Scout Finch says:

      Benefit of doubt to engineers and statistically minded folks who are unlikely to produce elegant prose.

      Above is not an egregious example however. In general, you just have to get past the occasional clanky and awkward sentences.

      You also have to get over high-mindedness as a reader.

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      • Nathaniel Dawson says:

        I’m not sure it’s high-mindedness. For me, it’s simply about what I’ve been accustomed to. Growing up decades before the explosion of internet blogs, what people read were professional publications — such as newspapers, magazines, books — which had to conform to certain standards. Having grown up reading publications with higher standards, it is now distracting to read articles that don’t measure up to the previous standards of journalism. They end up being more difficult and less enjoyable to read.

        For what it’s worth, I didn’t find much objectionable in this article. Fangraphs does have occasional problems in this area, but that’s true of much of what you read on the internet.

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      • Bigmouth says:

        Scout, that’s a bit of a copout. See, e.g., Ken Tremendous, Junior, and Dak.

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  3. scott says:

    Melky sub-replacement Cabrera

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    • JimNYC says:

      Fact: If the Yankees hadn’t traded Melky Cabrera for Javier Vazquez, they would have better this year.

      He may not be great, but he’s better than Javier Vazquez.

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      • DT says:

        Fact: Melky was worth -1.2 WAR, Javy was -.2 WAR. Melky would have eaten time from Gardner who was 5.4 WAR. The yankees would have been well worse off.

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  4. TFINY says:

    Michael Cuddyer

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    • MorneauVP says:

      My thoughts exactly. I remember in an interview once, Cuddyer said his pre-draft baseball highlight was throwing a perfect game in high school… apparently he was a pretty good pitcher all through that level. Not that that micro-success matters at all at this juncture, but I just want to see him out of right field. We could use a power arm in the bullpen, and I bet Cuddles could rock a mean heater. Can he use a crow-hop from the mound? :)

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  5. BX says:

    Already being tried, but Tony Pena Jr.

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  6. johng says:

    David Ortiz

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  7. Sox27 says:

    Mark Kotsay should’ve stuck with pitching

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    • Scout Finch says:

      He was unreal @ CSUF in ’95. Hit a jack in the eighth, close it down in the ninth.

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    • brendan says:

      hey! he had a few good years in the OF, especially w/ oak. not a star, but a solid player in his prime. I wish he’d retire, he’s ruining his rep now.

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  8. pepin says:

    En mi vida he visto a alguien hablar mas tonteria que Ud……Now in english in my entire life I never saw a man speaking more than **** words than you

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  9. pepin says:

    Look if a man with the 1th place in NL in put out and 4th in all mlb
    4 th asist
    8 th doble plays
    3 th in TC
    and batting 16 hrs with 78 ribis could be a pitcher so who could be out of MLB?
    I will give you the answer ….
    more than 200 american player ( no latin ) must be out of the MLB for the good of the baseball ..Who? look in your data base is very easy to fin them
    I think you will be better working in Saturday Night Live dont you?

    -17 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • hazel says:

      Since you don’t seem to be a native english speaker, I’m going to go ahead and insult your understanding of baseball instead of your writing ability: Betancourt’s defense and batting eye are so bad that even while he hit a career high in HR and ISO, he was still worth less than a win. Why the hell would you come to a site like fangraphs if you don’t actually understand the data that they publish here? Unless you actually are Yuniesky Betancourt, there is no basis for you to try to defend him here- and if you are him why aren’t you sitting at home wallowing in a pile of undeserved millions?

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  10. cliff.ly says:

    Nick “Save me the strikeout ball” Swisher

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    • James III says:

      Remember when Swish did pitch an inning? I think it was in ’09, but I’m not sure. Seriously, though, with the one exception of the year his BABIP dropped through the floor, he’s been a 3+ win guy for the last 5 years. He looks bad if you have a BA hangup, but there’s a reason he got 635 PA’s for the Yanks last year.

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      • JimNYC says:

        Nick Swisher seems to me to be any fan’s dream. He’s an awesome clubhouse guy, fantastic with the media, has contagious enthusiasm that spreads to the fanbase, and is a solidly productive player earning less than eight figures. He’s basically the perfect fan-favorite.

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      • James III says:

        Just wish he was still on my A’s! Sigh.

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  11. mickeyg13 says:

    A couple years ago the Cardinals had this nice CFer with an absolute cannon for an arm…Rick Achilles or Rick Ankle or something. He hit for a lot of power when he debuted but has bounced around with a few teams as his power has left him. Does anyone know if he has ever pitched at any level before?

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    Mark Freackin Grace. j/k

    Would have liked to have seen Shawon “Nuke” Dunston throw on the bump.

    Is is time for Rick Ankiel to go back to pitching? Seriously. No really. I’m not joking.

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  13. GTStD says:

    I’ve rarely seen a better arm than Rafael Furcal. He’s too good right now at short and too fast to take out of the lineup 4 out of 5 days. In a couple of years though, as he slows down and his lack of power catches up to him, it might be interesting to see him give it a shot.

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    • Alireza says:

      Furcal can hit and run. His arm is sick, but there is no need at all to move him. Tulowitzki is another howitzer SS who has been clocked at something like 94-96 on a throw to 1B.

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  14. pepin says:

    To the hazel…. yes I am Cuban living in Spain I cant express myself like you but I am sure that I speak nad write English beter than you spanish yes endeed .

    .ok I only want to ask you tell and the rest about Derek Jeter What can we do with him and for example player like T. Manzella Houton, J. Wilson Seattle, B Ryan St Louis, D.Worth Detroit, or Craig Counsell Millwaukee do you can tell me what they are doing with gys in MLB?

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    • mbrady16 says:

      I don’t think anybody would say Tommy Manzella, Danny Worth or Craig Counsell are very good baseball players. The first two are quite young and got time at a shallow position for their clubs. Craig is an OLD utility guy. Brendan Ryan and Jeter are clearly better players than Betancourt, even as limited as they are. Jack Wilson is an interesting wild card, he was really good with the pirates, down year last year.

      What did you sort by to determine chubby Yuniesky was better than these players?

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    • John says:

      I wish the Mariners would have Josh Wilson pitch.

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  15. pepin says:

    To the hazel…. yes I am Cuban living in Spain I cant express myself like you but I am sure that I speak nad write English beter than you spanish yes endeed .

    .ok I only want to ask you tell me with Derek Jeter What can we do where to dend him or for example player like T. Manzella Houton, J. Wilson Seattle, B Ryan St Louis, D.Worth Detroit, or Craig Counsell Millwaukee do you can tell me what they are doing with gys in MLB?

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  16. camisadelgolf says:

    Paul Janish is the worst ‘pitcher’ in Reds history, but he can throw an effortless 91 MPH fastball, and with some training and conditioning, I could see him getting up to 94 MPH. Janish has options, so they could always send him to AAA to learn some pitches from Justin Lehr, who is more of an instructor than he is a pitcher at this point in his career (just ask Homer Bailey). Then again, Janish is currently the Reds’ best shortstop–not that that’s saying much–so there’s really no point in even mentioning this.

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  17. camisadelgolf says:

    Also, Juan Francisco has a laster for an arm. If he never learns to work the count, he could try his hand at pitching.

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  18. guest says:

    Oiga, Pepin. Fijese que no tiene por que escribir en espanol…pues todos los articulos y comentarios estan escritos en ingles. Mejor hacerlo en un idioma que todos pueden entender. A lo mejor le gusta el juego del senor Betancourt ya que es cubano, como usted. Pero todos los rodados que el ha convertido en outs no es lo mismo como PORCENTAJE de jugadas hechas exitosamente. Respecto a las otras estadisticas (carreras impulsadas, jonrones), dependen del contexto. Es decir, si un pelotero esta rodeado de buenos companeros de equipo y acumula muchas apariencias en el plato, seguramente va a remolcar muchos RBI. Los jonrones son una muy pequena parte de lo que el jugador contribuye al equipo; mejor usar los pasaportes, imparables, etc para ver cuan bueno (o malo) ha sido el atleta. (wOBA) Bueno, un saludo de EEUU.

    Look if a man with the 1th place in NL in put out and 4th in all mlb
    4 th asist
    8 th doble plays
    3 th in TC
    and batting 16 hrs with 78 ribis could be a pitcher so who could be out of MLB?
    I will give you the answer ….

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. pepin says:

    oiga menos mal por dios que trabajo pase en el ingles tan pobre que tengo si entiendo en parte lo que usted dice asi como lo de las bases por bolas y la falta de voluntad en el robo pero el comentario asi todo no deja de tener mala intencionalidad

    creo que lo que molesta en el fondo es que halla latinos buenos en la posicion ya no solo como catchers posicion que no le gustaba a los americanos historicamente desempeñar en fin es lo que creo

    comprendo que la disciplina al plato en cuba apenas se enseña a lli es al salvajismo y ese defecto lo arrastran a las mayores pero decir que yunieski se valla a pitchear oiga no es facil yuni quedo entre los 10 primeros torpederos en todas las mayores pese al que pese no solo en la americana creo que es una falta de respeto a todo un esfuerzo de la temporada asi lo creo en parte que encima es cubano como yo imagine entonces pero no solo por eso

    Ah y si llega a traducir esto que me perdone por lo que dije que no debi decir y por mi ingles tan malo ingles gracias

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    • mbrady16 says:

      Betancourt isn’t even a top 15 HITTER at SS in the majors. Take into account his defense and it’s even worse. I know you share a heritage with him, but please. He’s not good (compared with other starting major league SS).

      Also you seemed to have slipped in some remark about how Yuni gets hate because he plays a position that americans are traditionally not good at? If Correct me if I’m wrong in my translation, my spanish is rusty. But in this case you might want to remember that some of the best SS’s of all time are whites- Cal, Brooks Robinson, Jeter, A-Rod, (I’m sure I’m forgetting someone.) Right now, Tulo is probably the best SS in the game. So you’re off base.

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    • Thomas says:

      Annnnd, you still don’t get it. Yuni isnt even in the top 32 short stops in the league. He is lazy (read: overweight), does not respond well to criticism and wasted a good amount of potential with a terrible approach.

      This is not a slight on latin born players. Jeff Francouer has had a similar career (actually, its probably worse) and he is white. This is probably a bad place to post if you do not understand advanced baseball statistics and resort to calls of racism.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        He is lazy (read: overweight),

        That mistake, equating overweight with being lazy, is why there were ~470 players drafted ahead of Albert Pujols.

        For the Love of Miguel Cabrera, can we please get past the idea that overweight=lazy?

        Seriously, there are plenty of athletes that are lazy pricks, who just happen to not eat much, not eat fatty foods, or just happen to have a good metabolism and/or outstanding genetics.

        The truth is you have no idea whether Yuni works hard or not.

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      • Tyler Thigpen says:

        and one of those actual fatass lazy players is named pablo sandoval

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      • John says:

        Except Yuni has actually proven to be lazy. He never went the “voluntary” extra fielding and batting practice in his last days in Seattle that every other player went to. That was a lot of the reason for him wearing out his welcome in Seattle, in addition to just being bad. One of the Mariners beat writers wrote about it at the time of the trade but I can’t find it now.

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  20. Ryan says:

    Didn’t Brooks Kieschnick do this somewhat recently, outfielder to pitcher?

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    • sopcod says:

      Yes, Brooks Kieschnick was a first round pick by the Cubs who, after bouncing around for a few years, found some success by filling two roles (relief pitcher and pinch hitter / emergency fielder) with one roster spot. Unfortunately he just wasn’t good enough at any of those roles to really stick. Interesting idea though.

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      • Bryz says:

        I’m actually a bit surprised why Kieschnick was out of a job so fast. He was a career .248/.315/.444 which led to a roughly league-average wOBA but with above-average power, he hit .270/.324/.365 in his final year as a major leaguer (not too bad, certainly worse hitters have been given jobs), and he wasn’t too bad as a pitcher either. Perhaps it was just tough figuring out how to leverage the pinch-hitting and relief pitching in the most useful way possible.

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  21. pepin says:

    Jeter?…. never had a good range factor man he only catch easy balls and the play in the hole ok but no more

    his UZR is a shame the yanks suffer a big number of hits between SS and 3b do you know that ..his Gold Glove was a shame for the baseball.

    Yuni catch more balls than 100 short stops in MLB his problems are others stole bases and patience in the home plate but the rest ? is fisrt 10 places in many departaments look in to the MLB stats.

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    • mbrady16 says:

      Even despite Jeter’s shortcomings, he’s still better than Yuni. That says it all. Since you understand UZR and range factor, why do you continue to support Yuniesky as a “top 10″ shortstop? You can’t ignore fielding metrics for him and then bash Jeter using them, its simply poor form.

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  22. pepin says:

    I am actually ….I live in Spain I am Cuban and I have to know English because I can hardly speak the language I hope you understood sorry about that

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  23. Mike says:

    A-Rod is white?

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  24. lois says:

    This article is a lack of respect to Yuniesky so I say

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  25. Jack says:

    Buster Posey: want a way to give his legs a break from squatting? let him Pitch like he did in college. We have seen him gun out would be base-steallers with that impressive arm, it DOES translate to the mound. Giants could make him an emergency starter/arm for the bullpen in extra inning games… he already preps for the upcoming lineup every game anyways so he knows the scouting reports.

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  26. Ethan says:

    Miguel Tejada…still has a cannon arm…his days at the plate are just about over in my opinion

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  27. Table says:

    James Loney…former pitcher, just waiting for that extra extra inning game…

    Ichiro……just waiting until he is 45……or bored of batting .300 with 200 hits. He could go for 3.00 era and 200 Ks every year instead. :0

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    • Elliott says:

      Ichiro for sure!
      He has wanted to forever in blowouts but the M’s won’t ever let him as it is a injury risk.
      Can’t blame them but I can imagine the speed he would put on that pitch (with no movement and the farthest HR hit ever off of him).

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    • Alireza says:

      Loney could probably convert within a year. He was so good in high school that he actually thought the Dodgers drafted him to pitch until they called him and told him that he would be a position player. His arm is so good that they toyed with him in RF in order to get him to the majors faster, back when he was considered an elite hitting prospect.

      BTW, thanks for the YouTube of Ichiro pitching. His mechanics even look awesome.

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  28. Mr Punch says:

    Do we have a comp for Ron Mahay’s age 24 season?

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  29. Carts13 says:

    Vlad Guerrero! You gotta admit that would be fun to watch

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  30. David G says:

    Peyton Manning

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    • Chris says:

      Helton was a quarterback at Tennessee and pitched in HS … Maybe he could have pitched a solid inning or 2 at some level …

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  31. EdwardM says:

    He only played in 8 games in ’10, but I remember Chris Woodward having a strong arm. No one would miss his bat too terribly so I think he might be what your looking for.

    BTW, former Orioles pitching prospect Adam Loewen is attempting an Ankiel manouver. At AA this year he went .246/.351/.412 in 537 PA’s. Lots & lots of SO’s.

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  32. Andrew says:

    Jordan Schafer. Rick Ankiel.

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  33. Bob says:

    Jose Guillen? He had a gun for an arm prior to his surgeries.

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  34. Ian says:

    Brandon Inge. The guy can do anything.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3288075

    And another quote:
    “Tigers coach Andy Van Slyke told ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark that Inge is the only player in the majors with the talent to play all nine positions at a high level.”

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  35. Josh G says:

    Nate Schierholtz and Juan Uribe both have strong arms. Pablo Sandoval too, and he can apparently throw with both arms

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  36. Jonathan says:

    I’m from Kansas…if anyone hasn’t seen Yuni in person…you really have to. He is the PERFECT Royals player. And I vote Raul Mondesi comes back to pitch. That was one hell of an arm.

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  37. Paul Thomas says:

    I don’t know if he’s still in baseball, but Donnie Murphy had an incredible arm as a shortstop and couldn’t hit a lick. Seems like a prime conversion candidate.

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  38. Justin says:

    Not even trying to nitpick, but is this article just about position players that suck that could POSSIBLY throw in the 90s?

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  39. ElJimador says:

    Is Lance Niekro still in the minors working on his knuckleball?

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  40. Milnertime says:

    Yuniesky Betancourt would probably suck at pitching, too, just to round out how unjustified his salary is.

    Poor Royals.

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  41. Fattinton_Bear says:

    I have a friend who grew up playing against Nick Markakis and he swears that Nick is the best pitcher on the Orioles.

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  42. cs3 says:

    how about the opposite approach:
    Dontrell Willis
    the guy has been a mediocre pitcher four 4+years now and is very unlikely to regain his form.
    But he could always mash, and is athletic enough to be at least an average outfielder

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  43. Kazinski says:

    Rob Johnson,
    A catcher who can’t catch, and can’t hit, but he has a decent arm with a career .305 throwout rate.

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  44. lois says:

    Bryan Bullington 30-year-old right-hander

    Eight years after being taken first overall by the Pirates, Bullington has appeared in just 26 major league games (half of them for the Royals this season) while posting a 1-9 record and 5.62 ERA. His only career victory came Aug. 15,

    So my friend would you tell me what can we do with this ” player” maybe he can move to the short stop jajajajajajajaja you have a lot of bluff in your baseball too I prefer to have Yuni only with a leg than players like this.

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  45. pepin says:

    jjajajajajaja thas good lois people that day in the draft was drunk? jajajajaja

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  46. lois says:

    No pepin…I think they are very tired of seeing so many bad people in this baseball jajajajajajaja

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